7 Tips for Visiting Antarctica Before It’s Too Late

Jan 27, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Antarctica may be melting 15% faster than it was last year.

On Jan. 22, a new study was published highlighting the severity of the continent’s ice loss. According to the Associated Press, it’s melting at a rate more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s.

The study describes “four decades of mass balance in Antarctica that reveal a mass loss during the entire time period and a rapid increase over the last two decades …”

For travelers, the urgency to visit the frozen continent before it’s irrevocably changed (and snag that coveted Port Lockroy passport stamp) may be more pronounced than ever.

TPG contributor Daniel Hank traveled to Antarctica five years before his wife and daughters were able to make the trip. While Hank described waiting the entire trip for a photo of a calving glacier, he told TPG that his wife and daughters heard ice breaking off frequently.

If you’re not deterred by noisy ice falls and freezing temperatures, there may be no better time than now to cross this destination off your to-do list. Here, seven tips for traveling to the southernmost continent.

Photo by Daniel Hank.

Stock up on Miles

No matter what kind of trip you’re planning, most Antarctica expeditions originate in the southern hemisphere. Generally speaking, cruises depart from Argentina, Chile and South Africa, with a few beginning as far away as Australia and New Zealand. But the majority will depart from the so-called End of the World: Ushuaia, Argentina, on the southernmost tip of South America.

Hank was able to use 12,500 Delta SkyMiles each way for nonstop Aerolíneas Argentinas flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia when he traveled to Antarctica, and awards are also bookable with the SkyTeam member using Flying Blue miles.

LATAM also flies nonstop between the two Argentinian cities, and you can book award flights with American AAdvantage miles (from 6,000 miles), Alaska Mileage Plan miles (from 12,500 miles) or British Airways Avios (from 10,000 miles).

Use a Travel Agent

“Like most travel junkies, I do a fair amount of planning,” Hank told TPG. “I typically try not to use travel agents. But in the case of Antarctica, I totally needed that help.” Hank used ExpeditionTrips, considered one of the foremost travel companies for Antarctica journeys. But there are a number of other travel companies and specialists that can help you pull together this once-in-a-lifetime journey, and they can help you identify which cruise is right for you. Travel Leaders, for example, can help connect you with an Antarctica travel specialist near you.

Shelley Fry, marketing and media manager for ExpeditionTrips, said a travel advisor can help you evaluate the different programs and identify which one makes the most sense for you. “Is comfort important? How important are the naturalist guides and optional activities?” These are just a few of the questions Fry said you should be asking yourself before booking a trip to Antarctica.

Silversea Cruises, for example, specializes in ultra-luxury expedition sailings, and is offering travelers all-inclusive Antarctica packages that include roundtrip airfare and a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay, as well as transfers between the airport, hotel and ship. And next year, polar cruise company Quark Expeditions will launch a new vessel with two helicopters and fast-loading Zodiacs.

Book a Small Ship Sailing

Passenger capacity can really range, but travelers should consider opting for smaller, more intimate vessels if possible. According to IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) no more than 100 people are allowed on the continent from a vessel at any given time.

This, Hank pointed out, is why you’ll notice that (on a boat of 200, for example) half the cruisers will be on land while the other half are in kayaks or Zodiacs. And if you’re on a vessel with more than 500 passengers, IAATO says passengers are not permitted to land ashore — definitely something to consider if you’re dreaming of close encounters with waddling penguins.

Photo by Daniel Hank.

Travel Between November and March

Fry has been to Antarctica on a handful of occasions, and she told TPG that, “The season generally runs from November into early March, and the weather — while always unpredictable — tends to be nicest midway through the season.”

If you’re looking for savings, shoulder season bookings (early November and late February or early March) can be less expensive, Fry said, because of either “shoulder season pricing” or “special savings.” February and early March, conveniently, are also the best for whale watching. But Fry said that the best time for viewing penguins is generally mid-December through early February.

Consider Last-Minute Pier Sales

According to Hank, there is one “super cheap way of doing Antarctica” — at least relatively speaking. They’re called pier sales, and they’re essentially last-minute spots on expedition vessels. If you have an indefinite amount of time to hang around Ushuaia waiting for someone to miss their sailing or cancel last-minute, you can score a steeply discounted rate.

Fry said ExpeditionTrips has “heard of travelers finding great rates [with pier sales], but that the trade-offs can be significant,” and that they’re “always a gamble.”

“They’re only suited to extremely flexible travelers with lots of time on their hands.” After all, there’s no guarantee, especially during peak season, that accommodations will open up. You also won’t have any say about the itinerary, vessel or activities.

Photo by Daniel Hank.

Watch Out for Misleading Trip Names

If you think you’re going to do Antarctica on the quick, think again. “The average time on the ship for an Antarctic Peninsula trip is about 11 days,” Fry said. If you’re looking for something shorter, know you may not be getting the full Antarctica experience. “There are some six-day programs,” Fry said, but even with Antarctica in the trip name, they “don’t actually take you down to the Antarctic continent itself. If time and budget are tight and you want to see penguins in the South Shetland Islands, though, it can be a very fun trip.”

Get a Bird’s Eye View

If you can’t commit the time or money to a multiday expedition, AvGeeks should consider one-day sightseeing tours over the continent. A company called Antarctica Flights takes travelers on a chartered Qantas 747 from cities across Australia. Unfortunately, you won’t earn miles on the 5,900 to 6,500-mile trip. The next flights depart from Melbourne and Sydney in February, and start at $1,199 AUD (about $860).

Photo by Daniel Hank.

Feature image by Daniel Hank. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.